e-patients: autonomy and competence
At risk of being thought one of those "distracted by focusing on the
negative aspects of the internet," may I report that in studies of
internet use by consecutive neurology outpatient referrals prior to
consultation, in the setting of two district general hospitals in north-
west England in the first quarters of 2001-2004, of a total of 854 new
patients seen, 335 had internet access (39%), 92 had searched the internet
for medical information (11%), of whom 37 (4%, or 40% of searchers) had
accessed material and/or reached conclusions which might be deemed
inappropriate to their final neurological diagnosis.
Whilst not denying the many potential benefits of the internet for e-
patients with established neurological diagnoses,1 these data suggest that
unfocused searching prior to neurological consultation and diagnosis may
not uncommonly be liable to error.
1. Lester J, Prady S, Finegan Y, Hoch D. Learning from e-patients at
Massachusetts General Hospital. BMJ 2004;328:1188-90 (15 May).
Competing interests: No competing interests